AL-MUKALLA: The Houthi militia in Yemen on Sunday kidnapped the leader of a major teachers’ union amid a crackdown on a growing public movement demanding payment for public employees.
The Yemeni Teachers Club said that armed Houthis in Sanaa encircled the residence of its chairman, Abu Zaid Al-Kumaim, who was later kidnapped.
The club demanded the immediate release of Al-Kumaim and the payment of public worker wages.
“We were disappointed to learn of the club president’s arrest at a time when we were expecting our government to reconsider the issue of the interruption of our salaries as educators and teachers for up to eight years, and work to ensure their regular payment and end our suffering,” the club said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of public employees in Houthi-controlled regions have not been paid since late 2016, when the Houthis ended payments in protest of the Yemeni government’s move of the central bank headquarters from Sanaa to Aden.
The Yemeni government accused the Houthis of looting the bank’s foreign currency reserves to finance military operations.
Public pressure on the Houthis has grown lately following reports that the militia had generated millions of dollars in cash from Hodeidah ports since April 2022 during the UN-brokered truce.
Al-Kumaim infuriated the Houthis by inciting teachers to engage in a months-long strike to coerce the militia into paying out salaries. Before kidnapping the club’s leader, the Houthis replaced striking teachers and school principals with loyalists.
Ismail Al-Jalai, a Yemeni politician in Sanaa who was present during the arrest, said that a group of armed men from Houthi security and intelligence led by Khaled Sharafuddin surrounded Al-Kumaim’s home on Sunday morning before storming inside.
The move prompted a terrified Al-Kumaim to exchange fire with the Houthi raiders, who he mistook for robbers.
Al-Jalai said that Al-Kumaim, who was yelling that he had not committed a crime, surrendered himself to a prosecutor, adding that the Houthis accused him of collusion with the “aggression,” referring to the Arab coalition and the Yemeni government.
According to Al-Jalai, Al-Kumaim’s rejoinder to the assailants was: “My brothers, I want my salary and the teacher’s salaries, and nothing else.”
The arrest of Al-Kumaim has prompted outrage and condemnation from Yemeni politicians, teachers, journalists and the general public, who have demanded that the militia pay public employees and cease persecuting teachers.
“I fully support him, and he is innocent of any allegations brought against him, and seeking teachers’ pay is not a crime,” Nasser Hassan Al-Kumaim, a software engineer in Sanaa, said on his Facebook page.
“We condemn, criticize and hold the authorities in Sanaa totally accountable for his safety and health. We demand that he be released immediately.”
Abdul Rahman Maazeb, a member of the government’s parliament, said that the Houthis took advantage of the Yemeni public’s focus on the conflict in Palestine to abduct Al-Kumaim.
“The common people expected them to go to Palestine to support it, not to Al-Kumaim’s house to detain a teacher demanding his and his colleagues’ salaries,” Maazeb said on the social media platform X.
Some Yemeni commentators, including Mohammed Al-Magaleh, who have long been viewed as Houthi supporters, criticized the Houthi raid and implored Yemeni teachers to pressure the militia to release Al-Kumaim.
“This person defended your rights, so it is disgraceful for you to remain mute about his arrest, which has no legal basis other than his defense of your right to human dignity,” Al-Magaleh said on X.